Margaret Atwood’s MasterClass on Creative Writing

creative writing masterclass

[I began writing this post in January 2020 as I was going through the MasterClass. Just put the finishing touches on it this morning and finally publishing it now!]

Last year for Christmas, I received an annual pass to as a gift that runs out on January 29th (next week). Therefore, as my main writing career focus, since I started working from MillHouse last week, I’ve been completing Margaret Atwood’s (author of The Handmaid’s Tale) course on creative writing.

Throughout 2019, I went through Judy Blume’s MasterClass on her writing process, Joyce Carol Oates’ on The Art of the Short Story in October as I prepped for NaNoWriMo, Neil Gaiman’s Art of Storytelling, and David Sedaris’ on Storytelling & Humor, and for each, I’ve saved the downloadable workbooks to possibly go back and practice writing through their recommended exercises and assignments to post later on. Next week, I plan to wrap up with James Patterson’s.

I think Margaret Atwood’s might be my favorite class yet. Below selections are from Assignment #1 in the masterclass.

Writing Process

  • In your notebook, take inventory of your current writing process. Do you have an established writing routine? A certain time of day or place you are most productive? Conversely, are there conditions that make it hard for you to write? If you haven’t written in a while, think back to a past writing experience. What methods or conditions worked for you then?

The only routine I’ve done semi-regularly since I stated I want to become an author has been writing in my diary. But, even that still hasn’t become an established same time everyday sort of routine. I probably need to test this theory, but I feel I’m most productive in the morning. JCO said it best in her MasterClass–the conditions that make it hardest to write are pretty much all tied to writing in an environment where you have interruptions and distractions!

Method Goals

  • Next, based on this inventory, write down a specific process or method goal you’d like to accomplish during this class. It can be related to time (“Write 30 minutes every day”) or word count (“Write 1000 words a day”), or it can be something less quantitative (“Sit down at my writing desk and open my notebook each morning”). Feel free to borrow one of Margaret’s methods. Try writing longhand if you tend to use a word processor, or if you find yourself editing as you go, try out the “downhill skiing” method:
    • Margaret starts by handwriting because she finds it generates a flow from her brain to her hand to the page. Then she transcribes these pages to typed ones, editing as she goes in a “rolling barrage” method that allows her keep what she’s just written fresh in her mind. She waits until she has about 50 or 60 pages before she begins to think about structure. Margaret describes her own process as “downhill skiing”. She writes as fast as she can, and then goes back later to revise what she’s got down.
  • Though Margaret doesn’t always follow a routine, setting routine-based goals for yourself can build your writing practice into a habit and help you complete a novel-length work.

For my first author career goal…

I’m committing to writing at least 1,300 words every workday towards a creative work-in-progress. My first project shall be finally writing a memoir of my and Reid’s RV journey!

[Yeah, I started then stopped that in February. Golly, I’m fickle!]

  • Finally, write about any fears you have about writing. Be as specific as you can. Then, on a new page, write about how you might face that fear. Whether it’s as specific as finding a trusted reader or writing under a pen name to offer you artistic freedom.

I have many fears around writing, some of which I’ve talked about here. For today, I’ll focus on one that has come up for me this week…

Fear of Rejection, Judgment, & Disapproval

I want people to like me. Pretty much since birth, I have been a people-pleaser. I really do care about what others think of me, more than I should.

One of my main fears about writing is that I could write something that would cause people to think less of me.

In the Enneagram, I’m a type 9 — “The Peacemaker”. I’m also a Pisces (sun & moon), an ENFP in Myers-Briggs, and a self-diagnosed empath.

Basically, this means I’ve spent my whole life actively trying to manage the emotions of others.

I’m usually the first to say, “I don’t care,” or, “We can do whatever you want!” when discussing making plans with others. Most of the time, this is because I’m truly agreeable and don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other and I’ll be happy whatever way things go. But sometimes, I wonder if I’ve developed and grown this tendency for flexibility and impartialness out of my long-standing need for people-pleasing and conflict-avoidance.

However, as I’ve embarked upon an as-of-now four-years-long journey of self-discovery with no sign of slowing down anytime soon, I’m learning more about some possible reasons why I am the way I am.

I’m learning how to express my thoughts, desires, and opinions in such a way that stays true to my easy-going nature, but also communicates that I undoubtedly do have some things worthy of saying and sharing (always without the intent to offend anyone, that will stay the same).

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